Field Mu­seum staffer, donor had 4 species named for her

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - TOP NEWS - BY MAU­REEN O’DON­NELL, STAFF RE­PORTER mod­on­[email protected]­ | @sun­time­so­bits

In life, Bar­bara Brown had four an­i­mal species named for her. There was a Peru­vian ro­dent (Isothrix bar­barabrow­nae). There also were a Brazil­ian mon­key (Cal­lice­bus bar­barabrow­nae), a mouse in the Philip­pines (Apomys browno­rum) and a pre­his­toric bird (Vadar­avis brow­nae).

In death, though, she hoped to be rein­car­nated as a hawk.

A birder, na­ture lover and one of the long­est-serv­ing em­ploy­ees at The Field Mu­seum, Mrs. Brown also was a gen­er­ous bene­fac­tor. She and her stock­bro­ker-hus­band Roger Brown gave mil­lions of dol­lars to the Field, the Sci­ence Mu­seum of Min­nesota and the Chicago Botanic Gar­den, where the 12-acre Bar­bara Brown Na­ture Re­serve is named in her honor.

Mrs. Brown, 89, died Mon­day of mul­ti­ple or­gan fail­ure at High­land Park Hos­pi­tal, ac­cord­ing to her fam­ily.

Bar­bara and her brother May­nard grew up on the West Side in Austin, the chil­dren of Jewish im­mi­grants. Their mother was from Bucharest, Ro­ma­nia, their fa­ther from Odessa in Ukraine. As a child, she at­tended Em­met grade school and loved rid­ing her bike to the li­brary and go­ing to see Shirley Tem­ple movies.

When she was about 10, her house­painter fa­ther died as a re­sult of lung dam­age from be­ing gassed in World War I.

Her milliner-mother Min Co­hen then opened up hat shops in an era when well-dressed women had one for al­most ev­ery out­fit. “She put two kids through col­lege,” Roger Brown said.

Af­ter Austin High School, she wanted to study bi­ol­ogy but wor­ried that might not get her a job. So she ma­jored in eco­nom­ics at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Ur­bana-Cham­paign, ac­cord­ing to her son.

She met her fu­ture hus­band through her mother, who sought in­vest­ment ad­vice from Roger Brown. “She thought, ‘Hey, this is some­body for my daugh­ter,’ ” her hus­band said.

Af­ter get­ting mar­ried in 1953, the Browns moved to High­land Park. They bought a house and 10 un­de­vel­oped acres near Clavey Road and Green Bay Road where they presided over six chil­dren and a menagerie of dogs, cats, birds and tur­tles. “We had a pet­ting zoo,” said their son Owen Brown.

To beat the traf­fic, she’d get up early and be on the road to the mu­seum by 6 a.m., said her hus­band, a part­ner at the bro­ker­age A.G. Becker & Com­pany. She worked at the Field for 47 years, re­tir­ing as a sci­en­tific as­so­ciate.

Mrs. Brown started in the mam­mal­ogy depart­ment, where she worked for Philip Her­shkovitz. She skinned, dis­sected and recorded spec­i­mens and made sev­eral re­search ex­pe­di­tions to Brazil.

“My mother had tremen­dous ob­ser­va­tional pow­ers, very good mea­sure­ment tech­niques, a high level of ac­cu­racy, a very good mem­ory, a lot of cu­rios­ity,” her son said.

In ap­pre­ci­a­tion, Her­shkovitz named a mon­key species for her. “It has long blond hair. It’s cute,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2007.

In 2006, Bruce D. Pat­ter­son, the Field’s MacArthur cu­ra­tor of mam­mals, be­stowed her name on the Peru­vian ro­dent. Part of the tree rat fam­ily, it re­sem­bles a guinea pig.

“She’s a men­tor to a lot of us,” he said at the time. “She’s like a den mother.”

Mrs. Brown said she was “tick­led.” “Bar­bara ob­vi­ously comes from an eco­nomic sta­tus above most in the mu­seum,” Pat­ter­son said, “and she’d put on an old, moth-eaten lab coat. I think she was focused on things that were more im­por­tant than su­per­fi­cial­i­ties.”

She worked into her 80s, two days a week. “If you keep ac­tive,” she used to say, “your brain stays ac­tive.”

Dur­ing bird mi­gra­tions, driv­ing with her could be haz­ardous, her son said. She would slow down in the mid­dle of a high­way to peer at a hawk.

“She wanted to be — per­haps she has been — re­born as a hawk,” he said. “Birds filled her with de­light.”

“Bar­bara so loved the woods and the birds, help­ing all of us re­ally see and ap­pre­ci­ate them,” said Jean Franczyk, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the botanic gar­den.

She was a pres­i­dent of the Evanston North Shore Bird Club and also liked to play ten­nis and fol­low Roger Fed­erer’s matches. She and her hus­band at­tended four Grand Slam ten­nis tour­na­ments.

She en­joyed lis­ten­ing to the pi­anists Arthur Ru­bin­stein, Vladimir Horowitz and Igor Le­vitt, vi­o­lin­ists Ye­hudi Menuhin and David Ois­trakh, Beethoven’s Razamovsky quar­tets and any­thing by Franz Schu­bert. When she died, her fam­ily was play­ing a record­ing of Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach’s “The Well-Tem­pered Clavier.”

In ad­di­tion to her hus­band and son Owen, Mrs. Brown is sur­vived by her daugh­ter Vanessa, sons Jeffrey, An­drew and Henry, 18 grand­chil­dren and seven great-grand­chil­dren. A ser­vice is planned for 11 a.m. Fri­day at Con­gre­ga­tion Solel, in High­land Park.

ABOVE: Long­time Field Mu­seum staffer and donor Bar­bara Brown hoped to be rein­car­nated as a hawk.


LEFT: ar­bara E. Brown with Bruce D. Pat­ter­son, who named a Peru­vian for­est ro­dent (pic­tured) in her honor.

Roger and Bar­bara Brown at the opera.

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